Hornets struggled on offense against the Jackson State Tigers



Alabama State University Hornet running back Santo Dunn slices through the JSU Tiger defense for a Hornet first down.

Kendal Manns, Editor-in-Chief

After weeks of buildup and anticipation, the Alabama State University Hornets battled against the undefeated Jackson State University Tigers in front of a sold out homecoming crowd of 28,332 inside of ASU Stadium. The Oct. 8 matchup ended with the Hornets coming up short 26-12 after going back and forth with the Tigers for the first couple quarters.
Hornet head football coach, Eddie Robinson Jr., reflected the big home loss.
“Definitely hurts losing at home,” he said. “Losing at homecoming hurts. We didn’t do our job as far as hosting the party and getting the ‘W’ for the rest of Alabama State nation.”
To the Hornets’ credit, they started the game clicking on both sides of the ball. Their defense set the tone early, throwing different blitz packages at Tigers’ quarterback Sheduer Sanders. Hurries from sophomore linebacker Deamurez Bellamy and senior defensive end Nelson Jordan II in consecutive downs forced a turnover on downs, giving the Hornets the ball near midfield.
The offense for the Hornets started off hot with freshmen transfers Deamtrius Davis and LaVontae Shenault making highlight plays for first downs. Disaster struck for the Hornets as Shenault suffered a knee injury on a routine post route for a first down.
Despite losing one of their top wide receivers, Davis continued to make plays using his legs to keep the Hornets afloat. He finished the drive off connecting on a 19-yard dime to sophomore wide receiver Kisean Johnson to give the Hornets a 6-0 lead at the 6:32 mark in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Hornets, their special teams struggles that have plagued them all season reappeared with freshman kicker Nathanial Eichner missing the extra point attempt far right.
Jackson State’s offense continued to struggle as the Hornet defense shut down their passing attack and run game. They would be only the second team this season to hold the Tigers scoreless in the first quarter, with Tennessee State being the first in their Sept. 10 matchup.
In the second quarter, with emotions running high for both teams, momentum shifted in the favor of Jackson State. Their defensive play intensified with the defensive line getting more pressure on Davis and delivering several hard hits. The last of these hits knocked Davis out of the game, reinjuring his throwing shoulder that has kept him out of several games this season.
The Tigers took advantage of the Hornets’ loss of offensive power and took the ball 80 yards down the field for their first score of the game. Sanders hit wide receiver Willie Gaines on a “go route” that saw Gaines zoom past redshirt freshman Tre Phillips for a 35-yard touchdown. Tigers’ kicker Alejandro Mata gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead to cap off the drive.
Another three and out by the Hornet offense resulted in another long drive for the Tigers. A 21-yard rush from Sy’Veon Wilkerson and three passes from Sanders for 20, 14 and 11 yards respectively ,got the Tigers in field goal range and ended with a Mata 36-yard field goal to give his team a 10-6 lead heading into halftime.
Both offenses struggled in the third quarter with Alabama State’s sophomore quarterback Myles Crawley relieving Davis and the Hornet defense slowing down a Jackson State team known for their strong third quarters. The Hornets’ senior cornerback Keenan Isaac picked off Sanders and placed the Hornets in great field position at the Tigers’ 33-yard line. The Hornets did not add any points to the board. A missed field goal by Eichner dashed the Hornets’ chances of making it a one-score game.
Sanders and the Tigers’ offense continued to test the Hornets’ “bend but don’t break” defense and had some success in the final four minutes of the quarter. Just when the Hornets looked like they stopped the Tigers’ offense, a penalty on Jordan on 3rd & 10 gave them a fresh set of downs.
The Tigers wasted no time taking advantage of this mistake and capped off a nine play drive with a heave from a pressured zone to wide receiver Kevin Coleman Jr., who narrowly beat freshman defensive back Adrian Maddox over the middle for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 17-6 to end the third quarter.
The Hornets fought back stringing together a couple of big plays from two of their playmakers, redshirt junior receiver Jeremiah Hixon and redshirt sophomore runningback Jacory Merritt. Hixon sprinted past Tigers’ defenders on his way to a 49-yard kick return to start the Hornet drive at midfield. Merritt hit a hole at the line of scrimmage and hit a 14-yard burst to get the Hornets in the red zone.
Crawley attempted to score off a quarterback keep, but the ball came loose and was landed on by sophomore offensive lineman Keeundra Salter for the Hornets score. They tried to recoup some of the points they left on the board after their first extra point try and went for the two-point conversion. The Tigers’ defense halted a rush by graduate running back Ja’Won Howell leaving the Hornets’ score at 12. The Hornets trailed 17-12 with 11:54 left in the final quarter of play.
Jackson State would put the final nail in the coffin on their next drive. The 11-play 78-yard drive ended with Sanders throwing a dime to runningback JD Martin on a 16-yard pass. The Tigers attempted a two-point conversion with backup quarterback Matthew Ricciardi-Vital attempting a bootleg pass but coming up short. Kicker Gerardo Baeza hit a 30-yard field goal for the final score at 2:38.
Robinson reflected on the contest in his postgame press conference.
“It’s a lot of things we can hang our hats on, but to me it’s no moral victories,” he said. “I ain’t going to ever come up here and say there’s anything good about losing … We played a really good team, you know. They’re the class of the conference, so that’s a good measuring stick.”
He looks forward to the Hornets next contest versus Mississippi Valley State University Oct. 15 at ASU Stadium.
“It’s something that we’ll digest and get back to the drawing board. We got a tough Valley team next week that beat us last year, so we know what they bring to the table and they’re going to play hard football.”